The Basics of Blocking, Part One
Everything you need to start blocking
Since I finished the back of the Bonsai Tunic last weekend (from Interweave Knits Spring 2007), I figured the best way to start talking about blocking was to do a bit of show-and-tell, starring my new best friend: the charming Miss Blocking Board! The board was a birthday treat for myself, and now that I've had a chance to drive Miss Board around the block a bit, I'm wondering what I ever did without her.
Note: The instructions given here will work for a variety of knitted and crocheted items. Lace shawls and certain other pieces require a bit of special red-carpet treatment, which we can talk about later.
Step 1: Gather the basic tools. You'll need the following:
- A surface to block on. Blocking boards, mattresses, towel-covered tables, foam floor mats, cork boards…you people had a zillion creative ideas for this, as we discussed last week.
- Some means of getting your knitting wet. Depending on the method you choose (see below), you will need one of the following: spray bottle for spraying, sink big enough to immerse the piece, wet towels, or an iron or garment steamer.
- Something to measure with. Experts such as Ann Budd suggest a yardstick rather than a tape measure, because tape measures can stretch and cause inaccuracies in your final measurements.
- The pattern schematic and measurements. This is to guide you in coaxing the piece into its proper size and shape as you block.
- Pins. Some people swear by using blocking wires, or strong cotton thread, to help eliminate pin-marks and scalloped edges. Try them if you have them. Whatever you use, make sure all materials are both waterproof and rustproof.
Step 2: Weave in your ends! Really. Take a deep breath and just do it. Blocking will help all those little loose ends get secured in place, and also will help "set the stitches" you weave the ends into, so they don't look quite as bumpy as you think they will. Tip for weaving in slippery yarns: The Bonsai is knitted out of a lovely, silky bamboo ribbon yarn, so when weaving in the ends, I used my yarn needle to pierce individual strands of the last few stitches I was weaving into, in order to lock the ends securely into place.
Use the schematic as a guide
Step 3: Check the pattern measurements. Look at the schematic, if there is one; otherwise, look to see what the "finished measurements" section says. Measurement tip: If you made alterations to the pattern, you made notes along the way, right? Of course you did! Make sure that you account for any changes you made, such as a slightly different gauge, or customizations, when you block.
Step 4: Decide which wetting method is best for your knitting. You can spray, steam, soak, or roll in wet towels to get your knitting wet. Which method you use depends on the fiber content of the yarn, as well as the stitch pattern, garment type, and your personal experience and preferences. But which is the BEST method? The best method is the one that gives you the results you want with that particular yarn and stitch combination. (Sorry. I know you wanted The One True Answer, but it's not that simple.) Do your homework–read the yarn label, check the yarn company's website, read your favorite knitting books (all by Interweave, right? Right!), and then experiment–on a SWATCH, of course, not on the cabled pullover it took you months to knit (see, swatches are good for something besides driving us knitters insane).
The most important thing about learning to block your knitting is: It's YOUR KNITTING. Not my knitting, not anyone else's. Be bold! Try different things until you find what works for you. By experimenting, you might just stumble on an awesome blocking trick you can share with the rest of us!
I leave you with an astounding and amazing Knitting Fact: There is no such thing as The Knitting Police. I promise, on my honor as a knitter, that no one will come in the middle of the night to cart you off to Bad Knitters' Prison if the way you block isn't the way I block.
On Friday: Part 2 of The Basics of Blocking. And next week: Advance copies of a hot new Interweave fall book are making the rounds of our offices…and it's BEAUTIFUL. (I am such a tease.)
Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.
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